Fortuna, Robin and Magda comprise the team behind Laundrette Superstar, a unique comedy show that combines synth-pop, film, stand-up and song.
Whilst Fortuna writes and stars, Robin takes care of the show’s technical direction and Magda looks after costume design. The incredible dynamism of the team is reflected in the show, which had a successful run at Camden Fringe and pops up at a variety of venues across London. The team talks to Mouth about the inspiration behind the show and how it’s put together, shoulder pads and all.
Where did the idea for Laundrette Superstar come from?
Fortuna: I did a performance arts programme at Battersea Arts Centre and Bryony Kimmings had this amazing idea to get two ideas that seem completely unrelated and putting them together. I’m really interested in synth-pop music so I wanted to do something musical, plus I wanted to end up with a character that was just working somewhere where they’re not able to do anything with their career and they’re not able to have any kind of love interest, somewhere nothing exciting happened, so a laundrette seemed perfect and that’s where the name came from.
I did a performance was told to develop the idea so from there I tweeted out that I wanted a costume and set designer: I had an idea of a costume that was Grace Jones meets Del Boy and I wanted something really vivid and 80’s. Magda got in touch, we’ve been working together ever since.
Magda: When we got together, Fortuna didn’t tell me about her Grace Jones meets Del Boy vision, there were certain references that she gave me, but it was funny that it ended up like that without me knowing that she wanted that. There was some kind of synergy there!
How was Camden Fringe?
Fortuna: That was so exciting, three nights at Etcetera Theatre. We sold loads of tickets, about 80% capacity in total.
Robin: Full house on the final night, which we were really chuffed about.
Magda: It was a special night because on the other nights there were so many people we knew so it was more comfortable whereas this last night was total strangers and they loved it.
Robin: Lovely to know you’ve managed to get that kind of buzz going that people will come see your show knowing very little about you.
Fortuna: We’ve also been sponsored by Korg who gave us a limited edition beautiful red and black synth, which is amazing, we can record melodies into it and it’s totally 80’s glamour.
Robin: Although Camden Fringe is great, Edinburgh is the big one, but getting that momentum and giving the show some gravity was great.
Your show combines a lot of different elements – music, film, stand-up – do you have a favourite? How much of your show do you plan and how much is improvised on the night?
Robin: You’re making a great assumption – planning. When I came into it, it was a one-woman script and it needed to be fleshed out a bit, putting in a bit more rhythm. So we worked on that until we came to a point we were happy with it and that’s when it became the most fun to do it, but still our dress rehearsal was the first night and it was still being written whilst the show was on.
Magda: It’s always a work in progress, you look at how the audience responds, what works and what doesn’t work, and you may find yourself being surprised and they laugh at things you didn’t expect them to, but not at others.
Robin: I think the day we go and do a show where the whole thing is scripted out is the day I quit.
Fortuna: It makes every show different, because every night you’ll have some different interactions with the audience and it’ll go a certain way. Everyone thinks things are written in, but they’re not, it’s mostly improvised! During the show, too, me and Robin are interacting because he deliberately tries to put me off by playing sounds at the wrong time.
Robin: There’s that idea about theatre: ‘never let them realise you’re in a theatre, you have to suspend disbelief,’ so we decided to do that, but to the extent that people don’t actually know whether they’re in a play or not.
Fortuna: We kept tweaking songs as well because people kept laughing when I hit the synth in a certain way or hit the wrong button so we tried to introduce that more. So yes, when I write it there is a structure but we try to work as much as possible with what people like and what seems to go down best. In terms of what we like more, it’s everything coming together that I really enjoy, so the stand-up intertwines with the music and then the videos pull together too.
Robin: Don’t forget the serious acting!
Fortuna: Obviously all the serious acting that I’m doing too! But it’s all kept pretty even.
Your other production is ‘Release’ a prison comedy. It went on a few weeks ago now but how did that come about?
Fortuna: I answered a call on the Theatre Royal website and submitted a first draft of a piece, had table reads for nine months, lots of feedback and new drafts, then I was one of ten which were put on as part of a new writing festival. Now we’re speaking to someone from the Arts Council who liked the issues the play talks about and we’re going to be discussing funding which is exciting. I’m keen to further develop it so I’ve also joined forces with Trailblazers, a charity, who help to rehabilitate young offenders and mentors.
What kind of music do you play on your radio show on Shoreditch Radio?
Fortuna: Punky synth-pop, all the time!
Magda: The radio is pretty much Laundrette Superstar on the radio because she is that character during the show, she’s acting and it seems like an alternate reality.
Fortuna: It’s practically Laundrette Superstar FM, coming to you live from the basement.
Do you ever tune out from the character or does it slip into your everyday life?
Fortuna: It’s especially confusing because the character has the same name as me! The line is really blurry.
Magda: For me her facial features just completely change when she’s Fortuna on stage, she talks differently.
Robin: Fortuna the character has this dysmorphia where if she doesn’t like someone they’re just an absolute hog but if she wants something they become that little more slim and attractive.
Fortuna: That’s a good way of describing it. It’s being inspired by lots of things, my own opinion is exaggerated and the character is just an enhanced version of myself.
Robin: We’re just collating every arsehole we’ve met.
Magda: Also it’s jokes about people on The X Factor, real wannabes and people who just don’t have the talent, celebrity culture, people getting married twenty times, there’s a lot of jokes that are rooted in reality, which a lot of comedy really is.
Robin: We get a few jokes where you can see someone sitting there thinking it’s in really poor taste but they’re laughing anyway, that guilty pleasure feeling.
Would you say the people around you are the main inspiration?
Fortuna: I take a lot from people around me, I’m also inspired by Victoria Wood.
Robin: Definitely Les Dawson as well, in the sense that here’s this man who’s a classically trained pianist and he can play anything but he does it in such a bum note way, it’s just perfectly wrong. Les Dawson meets bedroom DJ.
You mentioned Victoria Wood, is there anyone else you would name among your key influences?
Fortuna: Definitely Eminem. Loads of synth-pop music, I’m not really inspired by comedians but rather synth-pop artists and lots of obscure 80’s bands, like Toto, and lots of Phil Collins.
Magda: What about Tom (Cruise) and Justin (Bieber)?
Robin: I hope you write this up soon because here is where the big split happens: I hate Justin Bieber.
Fortuna: I love Justin Bieber.
Robin: And I would like him dead.
Fortuna: He’s so talented, he’s fantastic as an artist, performer, individual, and activist. I really like Tom Cruise, lots of 80’s films; Tom Cruise as Brian Flanagan in Cocktail is my hero. Also Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses, the idea of being really positive and not seeing anything wrong all the time, that’s really inspired Laundrette Superstar.
Robin: The glass that’s always half-full even when it’s empty.
Fortuna: And an almost psychopathic level of determination, you just can’t see how badly things are going.
Is Laundrette Superstar essentially realising your ambition to be a synth-pop musician full time?
Fortuna: It goes together with the comedy. As a serious artist I take my inspiration, which happens to be comic, and then I take my love of music and I just merge them together and that’s what makes the show. I think I’ll become a serious synth-pop artist and people will think I’m just being funny but it’s actually serious. As well as the music there’s the fashion, film – the show opens with a montage of Tom Cruise running to I Need a Hero. Essentially we do serious music, art and fashion, with a comedy twist.
Fortuna’s show airs on Shoreditch Radio every Saturday from 12pm-2pm. Find out about Laundrette Superstar’s next performance via their website.
Parts of the interview were edited for brevity and clarity.